Friday, November 29, 2013

Book Review: Story of a Soul

translated from the original manuscripts by John Clarke, O.C.D.

This book hardly needs another review, but of the books I've read this year, it is one of my favorites, so I didn't want to neglect posting a little about it. St. Therese is First Daughter's favorite saints. I've always encouraged the children to be more like her, because her "little way" of seeking out opportunities to serve and sacrifice for those around her allows little ones to truly imitate a saint in their own daily lives. They can't sail off to foreign lands to be missionaries (yet), but they can run to bring a spoon to Mama or a baby brother. So I was interested in learning more about this young saint.
At the beginning of my spiritual life when I was thirteen or fourteen, I used to ask myself what I would have to strive for later on because I believed it was quite impossible for me to understand perfection better. I learned very quickly since then that the more one advances, the more one sees the goal is still far off. And now I am simply resigned to see myself always imperfect and in this I find my joy.
St. Therese was very young when she entered Carmel, and still relatively young when she died. Her autobiography is written like a love story of a young woman. She is so full of joy it is hard not to be joyful along with her. She even composed an invitation to her wedding with Jesus (in imitation of her cousin's wedding invitation) that made me smile with its language describing the groom's parents: "God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, and the Most Glorious Virgin Mary, Queen of the Heavenly Court, announce to you..."
Well, I am the Child of the Church and the Church is a Queen since she is Your Spouse, O divine King of kings. The heart of a child does not seek riches and glory (even the glory of heaven). She understands that this glory belongs by right to her brothers, the angels and saints....Astounding works are forbidden to her; she cannot preach the Gospel, shed her blood; but what does it matter since her brothers work in her stead and she, a little child, stays very close to the throne of the King and Queen...But how will she prove her love since love is proved by works? Well, the little child will strew flowers, she will perfume the royal throne with their sweet scents, and she will sing in her silvery tones the canticle of Love.
I found by reading the autobiography, all I've read about St. Therese made more sense. Her Little Way, that of doing small acts that could be strewn about Jesus like flowers spread before a king, became much clearer and more beautiful.
Ah! Lord, I know you don't command the impossible. You know better than I do my weakness and imperfection; You know very well that never would I be able to love my Sisters as You love them, unless You, O my Jesus, loved them in me.
To show perfect love to all we encounter, and especially these little ones that swarm our houses, is really impossible. Those who want to love as a saint loves must do as St. Therese did: allow Jesus's love to flow through us to all of those around us. So I don't need to serve my children perfectly at each moment. Instead, I can merely open myself up to Jesus's love and He will take care of it. (I know, it's not easy, but it seems easier to me than trying to do it myself.)
To be heard it is not necessary to read from a book some beautiful formula composed for the occasion...I do not have the courage to force myself to search out beautiful prayers in books...I say very simply to God what I wish to say, without composing beautiful sentences, and He always understands me. For me, prayer is an aspiration of the heart, it is a simple glance directed to heaven, it is a cry of gratitude and love in the midst of trial as well as joy; finally, it is something great, supernatural, which expands my soul and unites me to Jesus.
And, as much as she seems to have sought out opportunities for sacrifice, she was so serene about any mistake or stumble:
It often happens that I allow these little sacrifices which give such peace to the soul to slip by; this does not discourage me, for I put up with having a little less peace and I try to be more vigilant on another occasion.
She also admits to often falling asleep during prayer and failing to complete a Rosary, but is again undeterred because the One who loves so much is still pleased with the desires of a little child who falls asleep at her tasks.

This book is available free online, but I read in many places that this edition, the Third Edition, was the best. I didn't actually look through any other versions, but this one was thorough, easy to read, and clear it the editor's notes. It also includes a few nice appendices and a reproduction of St. Therese's coat of arms in the beginning of the book.

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